D2, arguably the most even bracket, got underway Tuesday night. While we saw some surprises, nothing really jumped off the page as an unbelievable upset. The day got off on the right "upset" foot with both (10) New Milford and (13) Daniel Hand topping their higher seeded counterpart. While I hesitate to label these upsets, they technically are. New Milford got two goals from senior Steven Berry and excellent goaltending from senior Nick Capriglione in their 4-2 win over (7) BCR. BCR fell behind 3-0 early and just couldn't seem to dig out despite a courageous third period rally that saw them come within a goal with 26 seconds left. The Hand 4-1 upset over (4) Newington-Berlin is a little bit more noteworthy. There were talks earlier in the week about Hand wanting this matchup over a possible tilt with (12) North Haven. I don't know how much truth there is to that but, well, it worked. Locked at 1 after two periods, the Tigers exploded for three third period goals to ice this one. Junior Ben Solin potted two and helped on another while senior Danny Braumann added three assists in the winning effort. Senior goalie Chase Briggs was in stellar form turning aside 30 of 31 Indian attempts.
In the first game at the NIP (5) North Haven was able to finish off a pesky (12) North Branford squad in a game that for the most part was closer than the 6-2 final. The Indians got goals from five different skaters including two from sophomore Pasquale Liuzzi. Junior goalie Andrew Graziano stopped 25 of 27 shots in the victory. This one was tied at two heading into the third and the Thunderbirds had leads at two different points in this raucous affair. North Haven just wore North Branford down. It didn't help the T-Bird cause that junior leading scorer and top liner Alec Martone went out with an upper body injury after the first and never returned. Not sure it would've made a difference but it would've gave them another competent scorer.
In a pair of 6:00 games (2) Amity and (8) Cheshire took care of business. After initially falling behind 2-0, the Spartans were able to fend off the upset minded and defending champions (15) Fairfield Co-op 4-3. Cheshire's was never really in doubt as they rolled over (9) Suffield-Granby-WL 5-2 at Wesleyan. Amity used two Zach Shelnitz goals and rallied from being down early to sneak past the Mustangs. Cheshire got goals from five different players and a 25 save effort from Joey Solla to propel them to victory. Jake King, a CTHSHockey D2 Skater of the Year Finalist, notched a goal and an assist for the Wildcats.
In the second game at the NIP (3) Branford, behind two goals from freshman Zach Withington and senior Jason Vitale, beat (14) Fermi-Enfield 6-2. This was another one that, for long stretches, was tight and hotly contested. Fermi sophomore goalie Sam Roy was pulled in the third period but through the first and second was the only reason his team was competitive in this one. He finished with over 40 saves. Branford's power play unit looked especially solid early in this one before garbage time. Their passing was crisp as they cycled Fermi into submission. With Branford senior Tony Pascale out for this one due to some off ice stuff it was nice to see senior Jason Vitale step up and score two goals 15 seconds apart. Vitale is one of a few unheralded players on this group that go forgotten under the Hackett/Criscuolo glow. Oh, they both scored as well.
(11) Milford Co-op was able to top (6) Trinity Catholic 5-2 in a game where the seedings could've really been flip flopped. Senior Zach White, a CTHSHockey D2 Skater of the Year Finalist, posted his sixth hat trick of the season in the victory. (1) East Catholic was able to take care of (16) Wilton with relative ease. The Eagles jumped out to a 3-0 first period lead and never looked back. Alex Manner potted three in this one for East Catholic.
This sets up the Division II quarterfinals Friday. (1) East Catholic will take on (8) Cheshire. (2) Amity to battle with (10) New Milford. (3) Branford will get quite a challenge from (11) Milford. This one is reportedly confirmed to be played at Bennett Rink at 7:00. Finally, (5) North Haven will play (13) Hand, likely at the NIP because the site is essentially home to both team, no advantage there.
The SCC/SWC accounts for seven of the eight teams remaining with six of those being from the original SCC. That's pretty impressive but it's not all that surprising given the league's success over the years. Plus, when you consider that the 3, 4, 8 seeds in the D2 tourney last year were SWC members and the only two non top 10's from a year ago were NWC and East Catholic. The refreshing thing, from an SCCstand point, is that the league has already easily eclipsed the egg that they laid last year when only (9) North Branford reached the semi's and only three, then SCC-only, teams reached the quarters. All that said, East Catholic is still my favorite and if I have to pick one versus the field, I'm glad it's them.
I have gone 15-1 on my predictions through the first two days (D3 and D2 first rounds). My only inaccurate prediction was Hand beating Newington-Berlin. Moving forward I have East Catholic, Amity, Branford, and North Haven advancing to the D2 semi's.
D1 tonight! Let's get it!